Nowadays, it seems like games are doing more than ever to try and get your money out of your pocket. Micro-transactions, season passes, live service games with constant expansions, it can be mind-boggling, not to mention bank-breaking, to be a gamer in this day and age. However, for those who know where to look, there will always be excellent free experiences that you can dive into, as well. Here, we’re going to look at some of the very best free-to-play games of all time. It’s worth noting, that some of these will have some form of optional transaction, but we’re focusing on those that provide a good experience for those who never spend a dime.
League of Legends
The game that arguably cemented the MOBA as a long-lasting genre, even if it was originally born in the modded online games people hosted in Warcraft III, League of Legends is, more than a decade later, one of the most influential and popular free-to-play games of all time. So much so that in the esports scene, it is still setting record viewership numbers. A game of cooperation, strategy, and nail-biting clashes, it offers a decent roster of heroes for free players, and you can either earn others through play or buy them directly.
This one has to come with a caveat! Tetris 99 is not, in fact, free for anyone who has a Switch to go ahead and download. However, if you have a Switch Online membership, then you can get Tetris 99 alongside it. We’re not going to be including any PS+, Nintendo Classic, or Game Pass games here, but an exception has to be made for the revitalization of one of the absolute best games of all time. Tetris is a perfect game, its rules are as simple as they are comprehensive, so the fact it can be worked into a battle royale game as successfully as it is is always worth shouting to the rooftops about. It’s a shame Pac-man 99 didn’t get to stick around as long.
It might not be as flashy or as complex as some of the other games named here, especially those more in the online competitive space, but Solitaire is one of the true OGs of free-to-play games, included in almost every version of the Microsoft Windows OS that ever released. You don’t have to be a PC gamer to spend hours setting and beating records, however, as there are online Solitaire games you can find in any browser, or play on your smartphone. There are free versions of all the old Windows classics you can easily find, so if Minesweeper or Freejack is more your poison, you can easily start playing them now.
The Sims 4
That’s right, the latest entry from one of the most popular simulation games of all time has gone free to play, just as Maxis and EA are working on the Sims 5. Now, it is worth noting that the Sims 4’s free edition is missing a lot of the copious amounts of DLC that add tons of depth and variety to the game, but still, there’s a lot to enjoy in the basic package itself. There’s a wide community of Sims gamers who play only the Sims 4, so there’s no denying that it has plenty of power to engage those who want to see life unfold in miniature time and time again.
Occasionally, games try a new model that entirely changes the way that free-to-play and online games operate from that point on. Genshin Impact is not the first gacha game, that model existed and thrived on smartphones way before. However, it is undeniably the biggest of them all, and perhaps the one that worked in the most playable and fun game to boot with it. Genshin Impact isn’t a simple hero-collecting game where the strategy boils down to “when do I click the special attack button.” It is a full-fledged action RPG with lots of exploration, a diverse cast of playable characters that seems to never stop expanding, and a legitimately challenging endgame.
We couldn’t really skip the progenitor of one of the most popular online genres of game, now, could we? The battle royale shooter might not have begun with Fortnite, as PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds is what really got the genre kicked off, but it is without a doubt the most popular with players of all ages. From it, there have been countless imitators, including Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, and dozens that have risen and fallen in the meantime. But only in Fortnite can you have Chun-Li engage with Darth Vader in a Kamehameha beam struggle. There’s a lot of money to be spent getting skins and the like in this game, but it updates so frequently with new content, that it’s not just possible, it’s the norm to enjoy playing for years without spending a cent.
Let’s end the list with a more recent addition. Killer Instinct, the gritty, high-def reboot of the classic Rare fighting game, has recently gone free-to-play. This works like other fighting games that have gone free to play, in the past. Players can play as a set character, which is rotated weekly, but have the option to buy other characters on top of them. It might not make the entire game wholly accessible, but it’s a really great way to give people the possibility to try out the game’s mechanics and feel, without limiting how much they get to play. Hopefully, it will breathe new life into the game’s online and competitive player base, too. It always was a bit underrated.
Although greedy games are more widespread than ever, so too are free-to-play games. If you love them, make sure that you’re vocal about it. These games survive off the support that we offer them, as their player base, so if you’re not providing money, you can at least help to build the community and bring new players in.